With only two guiding principles – Visualize your work and Limit your WIP – much of Personal Kanban seems fairly straightforward. But it’s not as obvious as it seems, and there’s actually a lot going on under the hood.
Tons, actually. So let’s discuss.
We said in the previous post we want to limit our work-in-progress, our “WIP,” and set it within a reasonable limit. But there’s still some confusion about what WIP really addresses.
Does it mean:
A: At this very moment, what task am I actively doing with my hands?
B: At this very moment, what tasks am I am actually doing with my brain?
To be clear, your brain does more than your hands.
This goes back to the role of the visual control in your life. As a visual control, your Personal Kanban keeps you honest about the work being done in your head. The visual control is not necessary there to track what’s going on in your hands.
So the Personal Kanban doesn’t need to tell you (A).
This comment was left on our latest post How to Set Your WIP Limit:
Interesting. My WIP limit on my personal kanban has always been 1. Perhaps it’s just the way I’ve got it set up. For instance, right now the card I have in work is “read blog posts and comment”.
Now, I have a ‘waiting’ lane for cards where I’m blocked from taking any direct action. So by having a different lane I suppose that’s an additional WIP item since it’s not complete, but I like to split that out if I can’t take any action on it myself at the moment. It re-enters my pull queue when the block has been resolved.
What do you think about that Jim? Can I do better?
We’ve encountered numerous people who set their WIP limit to one and believe they are working on only one thing at a time. They will actually move cards in and out of DOING to note whether they are actively working on them. Again, what you are doing with your hands should tell you this.
However, those tasks that were moved back into WAITING are still active. They are still IN PROGRESS. Simply because your fingers aren’t moving them right now, doesn’t mean your brain is not still DOING them.
This is important, as the Zeigarnik Effect tells us two things about how we work:
1: We have a psychological need to complete a task. Incomplete tasks tend to create intrusive thoughts, causing us to dwell on what we’ve left unfinished.
2: We forget things that we’ve completed.
In the book and in our talks, we go into great detail about how this impacts our work. For now, let’s focus on #1.
When we begin a task and leave it unfinished, our brain keeps thinking about it. Psychologically we need closure, which can come from two sources – actual completion or officially deciding not to complete.
If we have a column in our Personal Kanban that is just holding incomplete tasks, there will be an irresistible temptation to put more and more tasks in that column. We will come up with excuses like, “This one is more important” or “I don’t have time for that right now,” or “I’ll get to it later.”
We want the DOING column to exert pressure on us. Our goal with Personal Kanban is to have a realistic WIP limit that is honestly displayed so that we can understand our options, better manage our work, and finish what we begin.
More on this in future posts in the Why Limit WIP Series.